The competition level of high school football in Florida is second-to-none. Florida produces the most Division I football athletes in the country largely because of the talent pool that exists at the youth levels. So, schools like Gaither High School in Tampa take every win they can get – especially when those wins come over nationally ranked programs.
That's exactly what Coach Karsen and the Gaither Cowboys did on August 30 when they got a 35-28 win over nationally ranked Plant High School. It not only boosted the kids' confidence, but it won Coach Karsen the Buccaneers High School Coach of the Week.
"They were really, really excited because it was such a big win for us," Karsen said of his players' reaction the win and his subsequent award. "They knew that we do a lot for them and we never want them to go without, so they know the money is going to help them with some of their needs."
The money Coach Karsen talks about is the $2,000 grant from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Foundation that comes along with the award. The needs he references are something as basic as meals. Karsen said 51% of the students at Gaither High School are on either free or reduced-cost lunch programs. The football team, in turn, tries to make sure their players not only have a pregame meal on Fridays, but also a meal the night before on Thursdays. The grant, along with the help of community partners, will help them feed the kids throughout the season.
"We try to run a first-class program," Karsen said. "The Buccaneers doing this is incredibly generous because it means so much."
It was Karsen's principal at Gaither High School that approached him after he won the award to tell him how much the team itself means to the entire school. He provided perspective on just how much athletic success can help students – and not just those between the white lines.
"Man, when your football team is good and exciting, that starts your school year off on such a positive note," Karsen said. "There's less fights in the school, less problems – you'd be amazed how having a successful football program helps."
Karsen found out he won the Coach of the Week honor via his email. Often a '24/7 job' between watching film, sending out college film and keeping on top of students in the classroom, Karsen usually takes about an hour and a half to himself in the mornings before most of the staff and students get to the school. He's bounced around at various schools within the county as a defensive coordinator but in his first stint as a head coach, getting the win over Plant and the subsequent recognition, means a lot to him and his players.
If you know a coach that should be nominated, visit the Buccaneers website to nominate the next Buccaneers High School Coach of the Week, presented by Tampa Electric.